What if you were Big Brother? What if you had access to a system that gave you every bit of personal and private information about anyone? What would you do? Orwell puts you into that position and you quickly learn that it’s not quite as cut and dry as it appears to be. After all, invading people’s privacy might be necessary to stop evil.
You are tasked with uncovering the terrorist or terrorists who have set off a bomb in a populated square. You have a few leads, and find a web of people, relationships, bits of information, all of which you have to make sense of in order to find the terrorist. It won’t be an easy job, and your actions may not always have positive consequences. Happy hunting.
The game appears to simply be a matter of finding relevant data and dragging it over into the appropriate profiles, but it quickly becomes more than this as they player discovers that some of this information is contradictory. Submit the wrong information and you might leave room for another attack or arrest the wrong person.
It’s here the biggest problem of the game emerges. Once information is submitted, it cannot be overridden. Therefore, if you find later in your research that it’s more likely the information you submitted is wrong, there’s no way to fix your error. The game does give you warnings when conflicting information is present, but it doesn’t tell you what the conflict is until you find the other one and it’s easy to miss the warning and submit faulty information.
And that’s the game. While that doesn’t sound like much of a game, it’s because these simple mechanics quickly show how morally ambiguous such a system is. On the one hand, it can protect people and expose the truth, but on the other hand it can ruin lives and violate basic human rights. Is it worth the sacrifice or too high a price to pay? Do you not submit certain unsavory details of someone’s life and risk another terrorist attack? That’s something you have to decide for yourself.
For such a small game, it’s an elegant, masterful work that shows how morally complex using such a system is. The detached interface makes it easy to pry into the lives of others and ruin their lives in the process. You are the intruder, but it’s not as simple as that. It never is. And, as the game is quick to remind you, the system is also tracking your actions. Big Brother is watching you.
© 2017 James Blake Ewing